The Cleveland Cavaliers will pick No. 1 and No. 33 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. In the next few weeks here at Right Down Euclid, we will be profiling players the Cavaliers might draft in the second round on June 26th. Today, we profile Wichita State Forward Cleanthony Early. Click here for more draft profiles.
Tale of the Tape
Name: Cleanthony Early
Position: Small Forward
College: Wichita State
Height: 6’6” (w/o shoes); 6’7.25” (w/shoes)
Honors: Consensus Second Team All-American (2014), NCAA All-Final Four Team (2013), First Team All-Missouri Valley (2013, 2014), Missouri Valley Newcomer of the Year (2013), Division III JUCO Player of the Year (2011, 2012)
2013-2014 Per Game Stats: 16.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 48.6% FG%, 37.5% 3PT%, 84.4% FT%
After a remarkable 24-point, 10-rebound performance against eventual national champion Louisville in the 2013 Final Four, Cleanthony Early seemed poised for a breakout season. He did not disappoint, leading the Shockers to a 35-0 start before a loss to Kentucky ended their season. Early did everything he could to win that game, scoring 31 points and grabbing seven rebounds, but Wichita State fell one basket short. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who had watched Early build himself into the best player in the country in junior college, but it’s a testament to intense work ethic that he now has a chance to be drafted in the first round.
At 6’7”, Early has prototypical small forward height. Both his wingspan and standing reach are slightly below average, but not significant enough that it should hinder him on either side of the ball. While he may not possess the athletic gifts of a prospect like Andrew Wiggins, Early certainly isn’t lacking in that area. He has a good first step and very good leaping ability. If defenses try to hide poor defensive guards on him, he is strong enough to bully them in the post. He’s quick enough to beat opposing power forwards off the dribble if playing in a small lineup.
Early was the No. 1 option for the Shockers this year, and his ability effectively play both forward spots was a big reason they had such a great season. He could score both on the block and out on the perimeter, but there are some caveats. In the post, Early didn’t exhibit spectacular footwork. He could score, but anything more than a drop-step was dicey.
While he has made himself into a good three-point shooter, he doesn’t have the best mechanics. His jumper is flat, and he has trouble shooting off the dribble. In catch-and-shoot situations, however, he shot 39 percent. He also doesn’t show very good awareness when he receives the ball, missing open shooters just one pass away.
Even though Early has improved by leaps and bounds the last four years, his defense still leaves a lot to be desired. The physical tools are there for him to be a solid defender, but the effort has been hit or miss. He has a tendency to play on his heels, which leaves him vulnerable to blow bys. His lack of focus has causes him to lose his man off the ball and in rebounding situations. That said, there is some reason to be optimistic. Early averaged 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per-40 last season, and he will no longer be counted on to put up big numbers on offense. This should allow him to focus more effort and energy on the defensive end.
Due to academic issues in high school, Early went to a prep school after graduating. While he received some D-I offers, he ultimately chose to go to Junior College. The summer before he went to college, his older brother drowned. Early decided to go to a D-III JUCO closer to home in order to be near his family. There are really no off-court red flags with Early. The academic issues were really just the result of a young kid not taking school seriously. His meteoric rise on the court is what should be the focus of any piece on Early. He went from one year of prep school, to JUCO player of the year (twice), to best player on one of the top teams in the nation. He’s been a winner on every level, and he’s filled any role coaches have asked him to play.
The best comparison for Early is probably DeMarre Carroll of the Atlanta Hawks. Carroll had a slightly better handle coming out of college, but they were both four year players who shifted between the small and power forwards spots. Both worked incredibly hard to add the three-pointer to their arsenal, though Early is a little further along in his development on the perimeter. In his seventh season this past year, Carroll emerged as a solid starter for the Hawks after playing limited off the bench the previous two years in Utah. It would not be surprising to see Early follow a similar path.
How Does He Fit on the Cavaliers?
Given the hole the Cavaliers have at small forward, Early would be a great fit and could even start right away should Cleveland take Embiid at the top of the draft. If the Cavaliers go into next season with Irving and Waiters in the backcourt, along with Bennett and Embiid up front, all they would really need from their small forward is someone that could shoot and attack the defense off ball reversals. They would not need a small forward to create for himself or others, and that plays to Early’s strengths. Bringing him off the bench at first would be ideal, but it may ultimately limit his potential unless the bench unit had an effective creator.